Barbados • St Lucia • Dominica • Antigua • St Kitts • Iles des Saintes • Martinique
Ports of call and excursions
Most of the guests on board our Royal Clipper cruise were couples or groups in their 60s and 70s, retired or semi-retired, but many were still very active and enjoying life to the full. Some were there simply to relax, but there’s a wide range of activities for those who want more.
Being the active type, on the first morning I had got up at 6am to watch an incredible sunrise, been to a fitness class, climbed the rigging, seen a whale – and it was only 10am!
Our stop that day was at St. Lucia – the tenders were running every fifteen minutes or so to the Marina or St Rodney Bay for free water sports on the beach. Excursions were on offer to discover more of this volcanic island, including an aerial tram, a Segway experience, 4×4 jeep driving and an electric bus tour to see the (dormant) volcano.
The second day found us disembarking onto the wooden jetty at Dominica – this was a wonderful day to visit an eco-paradise, the same size as Barbados but with its mountainous terrain meaning that it is untouched by mass tourism. With outstanding hiking, diving and a multitude of natural beauty, including 12 waterfalls and sulphurous hot springs, this was a memorable experience. Read my separate article.
Day three was Antigua – the ship docked at Pigeon Point beach and we walked across to the English Harbour. Nelson’s Boatyard is the main draw – still a working dock, it has been restored into a tourist attraction with a fascinating museum, as well as an excellent range of restaurants and bars – mainly to service the fabulous yachts and motorboats in the marina. It felt like the Caribbean’s answer to St. Tropez as we took a peek into the lives of the super-rich – many millions of pounds worth of gin palaces lay side by side, along with stoops and other sailing boats, all immaculately maintained by uniformed young crews.
Our day in Antigua included a fabulous beach barbecue – as if by magic, tables filled with food appeared with smiling staff to serve delicious chicken, lamb, beef and vegetarian options, followed by six different desserts and a bar. All the food was transported to the beach by tender – they made it look so easy!
St Kitts on day 4 was one of the most memorable days and I cannot recommend highly enough the train ride around the island departing from Needsmust Railway Station (what a great name). It’s a 2-hour journey on a narrow gauge railway with a choice of a canopied open -air floor at the top or an air-conditioned carriage below. Our guide was fabulous – full of interesting information about the history of St Kitts, as well as personal anecdotes which were entertaining and fascinating. Bypassed by Christopher Columbus in 1493, St Kitts nonetheless was named after the great man, and together with neighbouring Nevis (birthplace of US founding father Thomas Hamilton), developed as a one of the world’s leading sugar cane producers, thanks largely to free slave labour from Africa.
Our train passed by derelict sugar plantations and mills, as our guide explained how the industry rose and fell, finally closing in the early part of this century but with its legacy railroad now providing a huge tourist attraction.
The final part of our journey was by coach and we wove through villages learning about the ancestor of American president Thomas Jefferson who helped found the first Anglican church, the cotton trade, the egret sanctuary, the 100,000 monkeys on the island, the Bloody River (where the British slaughtered the local Caribs) and much more.
We ended with a breathtaking view on the point where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean separated by a narrow isthmus and the crashing waves on the left contrasting with the gently lapping waters on the right.
St Kitts is a beautiful island, full of history and interest, and thanks to an international airport and huge Marriott hotel, a strong tourism business.
On the penultimate day, the tricolore was hoisted and we sailed into the French West Indies for the final part of our cruise and what an unexpected gem our next port of call turned out to be. Iles des Saintes consists of two islands – Terre Haut and (unsurprisingly) Terre Bas, and we docked just outside of Terre Haut, a small and perfectly formed extension of France. The currency changed to Euros, the language to French, the supermarket was Carrefour, and the tiny church was of course Notre Dame – and even a cluster of gendarmes chatted in the main square, although it was hard to imagine they might be required to deal with any kind of serious crime on this delightful
I loved this laid-back and elegant island, with its stylish boutiques and beachside restaurants along the white sand bay where turquoise waters gently lapped the shores. It really was perfection, and clearly the French are proud of their remote outpost. This is a place I will return to.
Martinique was our final destination, another French island and just a half day to visit two secluded coves with a challenging but rewarding 45 minute mountain path between them. Each had a stunning sand beach (topless sunbathing – bien sur!), warm turquoise water and the now familiar landmarks which signified we were in part of France (the yellow ‘Poste’ sign, the boulangerie, the crepes stand and the EDF van to name but a few). Not long enough to explore any further we returned by tender to our ship for the final sailaway.
Each day a different island – what better way to explore the Caribbean in a week? And indeed what better way to end each day than to get back on board the Royal Clipper and enjoy a rum punch on the top deck as the sun went down.